James Spader: Not Just a Singer, But A Song Stylist

Tuff Turf

Actor James Spader is well known – beloved even – for the deliciously wicked bad guy roles he played in such movies as “Pretty in Pink,” “Sex, Lies & Videotape,” and “Less Than Zero.” On the small screen, he’s earned Emmy Awards for his work on “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.”

 

But it’s not Mr. Spader’s memorable roles as a Yuppie-with-a-heart-of-tin that concerns us here. It’s James’ singing career.

 

“Singing career,” I can hear you all saying “Why, I didn’t know James Spader was a vocalist!”

 

Well, Jimmy Spader (as he was originally known) probably doesn’t talk about that part of his oeuvre when he’s making the rounds on “Carson Daly” or “Ellen.” But thanks to cable television, my first encounter with Spader was as an actor who takes a vocal turn in a trashy 1985 teen flick called “Tuff Turf” (which HBO used to show constantly). And thanks to this cool Web site, we can all download an MP3 of the song he sings in that movie right now! (According to the consensus on several Web sites, that’s really Spader singing.)

 

How does he do? Not bad, actually. His vocal may be somewhat pedestrian, but he doesn’t embarrass himself. Heck, with some more practice, he might have made it as a lounge singer – the type my old Italian relatives used to love and praise with what was their ultimate compliment for any vocalist: “He’s not just a singer – he’s a song styulist.”

 

The Cannes Film Festival Best Actor award Spader would receive for “Sex, Lies…” was a long four years away when Spader played the role of Morgan Hiller in this “Afterschool Special”-like teen drama. Spader’s character is an upper class white high schooler forced to move to the wrong side of the proverbial when his family hits financial rock bottom (so much for the 1980s being the “boom years!”).

 

He encounters a bunch of really mean guys, all of whom are mysteriously dressed like the tough street characters in Michael Jackson videos from a few years back. He falls in love with the gang’s girl of the gang, who is named Frankie (perhaps as a tribute to the tragic heroine from the “Frankie and Johnny” folk song).

 

When one of the bad guys catches Spader messing with Frankie he warns Spader “Keep away from Frankie. She’s my property.” But like a really obsessed graffiti artist (or a deadbeat renter), Spader’s character simply cannot recognize the value of property. So he takes Frankie to some swank party, plops hisself down at a grand piano and croons a Billy Joel-esque ballad called “We Walk the Night ” (or "I Walk the Night" sometimes).

 

I feel your face

I hear your eyes

I know the nights that you cried, but still we survive

I walk the niiiiight…

 

For whatever reason, Spader has never reprised “We Walk the Night” on any of his many talk show appearances. But you can check him out singing it in the movie here.